First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter
WASHINGTON — It would be one thing if the situation surrounding former White House staff secretary Rob Porter — who was alleged of abusing his ex-wives, who was defended by a White House informed of those allegations, and who was ultimately let go — was the first or second scandal rocking the Trump administration.
But it’s not. Indeed, we can count at least 11 criminal/ethical/personnel scandals involving President Trump, the White House, the administration and Trump’s 2016 campaign since Trump took office. To recap:
- Jan. 25, 2017: Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort doubled its initiation fee to $200,000 after a surge in membership applications following Trump’s presidential victory, according to the New York Times.
- Feb. 13, 2017: National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned just after the Washington Post first reported that the Justice Department had informed the White House that Flynn could be subject to blackmail.
- May 9, 2017: Trump fired James Comey as FBI director. Two days later, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt the firing was due to the Russia investigation. "When I decided to [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story."
- Aug. 18, 2017: Billionaire investor Carl Icahn resigned from his role as a White House adviser amid allegations that he pushed for regulatory changes that benefited his investments.
- Sept. 29, 2017: Tom Price resigned as Health and Human Services secretary after reports surfaced that he used private and government planes for travel.
- Oct. 2, 2017: The Interior Department’s inspector general’s office announced it opened an investigation into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s use of taxpayer-funded charter planes.
- Oct. 30, 2017: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and 2016 campaign aide Rick Gates were indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe; another 2016 adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty.
- Dec. 1, 2017: Flynn, the former national security adviser, pleaded guilty for lying to the FBI.
- Jan. 31, 2018: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Brenda Fitzgerald resigned following a report that she bought shares in a tobacco company one month into her tenure.
- Jan. 31, 2018: The Washington Post reported that HUD Secretary Ben Carson “allowed his son to help organize an agency ‘listening tour’ in Baltimore last summer despite warnings from department lawyers that doing so risked violating federal ethics rules… Career officials and political appointees raised concerns days before the visit that Carson’s son, local businessman Ben Carson Jr., and daughter-in-law were inviting people with whom they potentially had business dealings.”
- Feb. 8, 2018: White House staff secretary Rob Porter officially departed the White House after the allegations surfaced that he abused his ex-wives; Porter has denied the allegations.
The White House knew about allegations against Porter for more than a year
The Washington Post writes, “In January 2017, when [White House Counsel Don] McGahn learned of the allegations, he wanted Porter to stay put because he saw the Harvard Law-trained Capitol Hill veteran as a steadying, professional voice in the White House, according to people familiar with the matter. His view didn’t change in June when the FBI flagged some of its findings to the White House. Nor did he act in September when he learned that the domestic violence claims were delaying Porter’s security clearance, or in November when Porter’s former girlfriend contacted him about the allegations, according to these people.”
The Post adds, “A White House spokesman said that McGahn — who had access to the FBI’s background investigation file conducted for Porter’s security clearance — and Kelly feel misled by Porter, saying he downplayed his ex-wives’ accusations in conversations with them. In a late phone call Thursday, McGahn said Porter did not tell him one year ago that his ex-wives accused him of domestic violence.”
The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein observes, “One of the reasons Porter was allowed to stay put in the WH is that there simply aren’t enough competent people in the WH or willing to work in the WH. They needed him. Badly.”
NYT: Trump called his old chief of staff to express dissatisfaction with his current chief of staff
Meanwhile, the New York Times suggests that President Trump has lost trust in chief of staff John Kelly. “Among the many people agitated this week over John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, was President Trump. And among the people the president called to express dissatisfaction, according to those close to him, was none other than Reince Priebus, the previous chief of staff, who also irritated Mr. Trump.”
More from the Times: “The idea that the president would confide grievances over Mr. Kelly with the person he pushed out to hire Mr. Kelly is yet another indication of how upside-down Mr. Trump’s world can be. In the West Wing, various characters fall in and out of favor with such rapidity that it is never entirely clear who has the president’s ear.”
Remember, it was in the spring/summer of 2017 — after the Comey firing — when Trump lost confidence in Priebus, who remained in his job until late July. Are we seeing a similar dynamic playing out with Kelly?
Congress passes two-year spending deal after second shutdown in a month
“After a temporary lapse in government funding that lasted through the night, Congress passed a pricey two-year spending deal early Friday that will also fund the government for an additional six weeks,” NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell, Frank Thorp and Alex Moe report. “The government temporarily closed after Congress failed to pass a government funding bill before a midnight deadline due to the objections of one senator, shutting down non-essential government services.”
“In the end, a bipartisan cohort of lawmakers supported the $400 billion agreement. Shortly after 1:30 a.m. ET, the Senate voted, 71-28, to approve a two-year spending bill that would reopen the government, and the House passed it at 5:30 a.m. with the support of 240 members." The president tweeted Friday morning that he has signed the bill.
We now know the REAL governing wing of Congress, and it’s less than a majority of the House
In the House, 167 Republicans and 73 Democrats voted for the budget deal, while 119 Democrats and 67 Republicans voted against it.
And now you know the real governing wing of the House — 70-plus Democrats along with the 50 to 60 House Republicans who typically would vote for spending/budget deals in the final years of the Obama Era. Folks, that’s not a majority of the House of Representatives, and it’s why there’s a governing problem. And it’s why no one should be optimistic about immigration getting through the House.
Meanwhile, the vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election in 2018 (Sherrod Brown, Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, Claire McCaskill and Ben Nelson) voted FOR the bill. GOP Sen. Dean Heller also voted for the bill.
Pence to NBC’s Lester Holt: U.S. will continue to put pressure on North Korea
In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Vice President Mike Pence said this about North Korea: “We're going to continue to put all the pressure to bear economically and diplomatically, while preserving all of our military options to see that that happens.” The rest of the interview will air on NBC “Nightly News.”